Systemic Change

Vincentians Show Christ’s Love

Vincentians Show Christ’s Love 1688 1125 SVDP USA

It’s been just over a year since Tasha called the St. Vincent de Paul Conference at Sts. Joseph and Paul Catholic Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. “It changed my life,” she says. “I was at the point of giving up. I was absolutely at my breaking point.”

After having made some bad decisions in her life, she was determined to make good decisions, especially because of her two boys. She was holding down a job at McDonald’s, as was her 16-year-old son Jamison, both of them working different shifts so one of them could be home with 10-year-old son Jaxon.

Try as she may, Tasha could not make ends meet. She and her boys were living at a local motel. It wasn’t the life she wanted for them, but at least it was a roof over their heads, and they were together. After living at the motel for more than a year, someone suggested Tasha call St. Vincent de Paul to see if they could help.

She was scared to call, afraid that they would not help her family. But Tasha put her pride aside and picked up the phone to call the Vincentians at Sts. Joseph and Paul Catholic Church.

The Vincentian who returned her call that day was named Braun. Desperate to get her family out of the motel and into secure housing, Tasha told Braun that she had enough money for one month’s rent, but the landlord was requiring a deposit of another month’s rent. She wondered if St. Vincent de Paul could help her with the deposit.

Braun told her, “Do not give up. There is a way for St. Vincent de Paul to help.” With the amount of the deposit, he called a couple of other local churches to see if they could contribute. After securing the deposit funds, he called Tasha and told her she could go ahead and move into her rented home.

More good news was to come for Tasha. Braun called her again and offered her a job at Kentron, a metal stamping company where Braun works. Tasha said “I could not believe it. I was so excited and could not believe this was happening to me.”

There were more challenges to come, but Tasha and Braun didn’t give up.

Remembers Braun, “She did not pass her physical the first time, but there were extenuating circumstances. Her car broke down, so she ran all the way to the doctor’s office in the rain and was so out of breath she could not pass the physical exam. We had her take it again and she passed with flying colors. She wanted this job, this opportunity to change her life.”

During her probationary period, Tasha got sick and had numerous doctors’ appointments and tests, but the company stuck with her. Another hurdle came when the home she had rented went up for sale, so Tasha and her family would have to move again. Fortunately, she found one she loved. Her landlord has even entered a contract for deed sale, which will allow Tasha to buy the home.

“This is the beauty of being a Vincentian: Being able to help break the bonds of systemic poverty,” says Braun.

Tasha wants people to know, “There is a chance. There is hope that life can get better. But you must want to change your life. There is a power greater than us that can help if we want it to, and let it. My plans are to keep moving forward every day, to stay focused, to not give up, and to get up every day trying to do the right thing.”

Contemplation — A Seamless Garment

Contemplation — A Seamless Garment 1080 1080 SVDP USA

In Blessed Rosalie’s time, every working-class family with three or more children was registered with the Bureau of Public Assistance; it was simply assumed that in the conditions of the times, they would not be able to support themselves. Work was often disrupted by revolutions which shut businesses down, or by epidemics that both shuttered businesses and ended lives. A man’s death could leave his widow and children in complete destitution.

In the midst of this, Rosalie and the Daughters of Charity worked both tirelessly and cheerfully to bring food, medical care, and more to the homes of the poor. Rosalie, it was said, would not leave those homes without having also helped with some housework.

Mentored in our earliest days by Rosalie and the Daughters, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul carries on this tradition, meeting and befriending our neighbors in their homes and seeking ways to provide for their needs. Also, like Rosalie, this can lead us beyond the Home Visit.

After all, if her husband had died, leaving her penniless, the widowed mother of Rosalie’s time would have to go outside the home and find work to support herself and her children, but then who would care for the children? The Daughters could have simply kept bringing more bread, but instead, Rosalie founded the Saint-Marcel Day Nursery to care for newborns while their mothers worked. She saw that this would do more than provide food, it would remove a barrier to their own self-sufficiency – a barrier over which the widows themselves had no control. The women even paid 15 of the 55 centimes that the childcare cost per day.

By respecting the dignity of the widows and the duty of people to work, and continuing to walk in friendship with the neighbor, Rosalie modeled for us both our Catholic Social Doctrine and our Vincentian vocation.

It is no wonder that the young men who founded the Society would follow this example, as well, creating an apprenticeship program for young men in Paris shortly after the very first Conference was founded. It was in the course of their Home Visits they saw a way to break the cycle of poverty among young men who had no fathers to guide them into a trade.

It turns out that “systemic change” is only a new phrase, not a new idea. After all, who would sew a new patch to an old cloak? All of our works grow naturally from the knowledge we gain by climbing the stairs to the poor man’s garret. Systemic change may be beyond, but it is inseparable from the Home Visit, part of a seamless garment, rooted deeply in both our tradition and our Home Visit.


What barriers can I help to remove from the neighbor’s path?

Recommended Reading

Seeds of Hope

11-04-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-04-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 200 200 SVDP USA

Recently, over 200 members of The Vincentian Family gathered in Atlanta to explore our personal role and challenge to “love like Christ loves” in working for racial equity in our world. This Family Gathering is held every other year, in places around North America. It is a chance to meet Vincentians from some of the 15 branches that follow the example of Saints Vincent & Louise. Each time I attend one of these gatherings, I meet someone from a branch I’ve never heard of. This year, it was the Missionary Cenacle Family. If you ever get the chance to attend a Gathering, I would highly recommend it.

For me, the most challenging portion of the weekend came in a homily by Bishop Fernand Cheri, the Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans. This is a man that has been through a lot. Like so many Black brothers and sisters, he seemed tired of being polite. He got right to the heart of the problem. White people have most of the power to create more equity in society. And we have to figure out what that means for each one of us.

That wasn’t a very satisfactory answer. I felt what many of you must have felt after the series “Open Wide Our Vincentian Hearts-Hope in the Face of Racism Series,” last year. The constant theme in the follow-up questions was, “What do I do now?”

We all know about the large scale advocacy & systemic things we can do: work to end food deserts in our communities; advocate for more affordable and better housing for people in need, etc. But, what can I personally do to help my friends, neighbors, and colleagues, who may be hurting or carrying the pain of past discrimination or exclusion?

Several years ago, a colleague was returning from washing her hands and she had a very angry look on her face. When I ask what was wrong, she said, “I get so angry when the automated faucets don’t work. I know it’s because they haven’t been calibrated to my dark skin tone.” My first impulse was “That can’t be true.” Thankfully, what came out or my mouth was, “Wow, I never thought about that possibility.” We then began a dialogue that goes on today, about the ways that we both react to similar situations in different ways-mine from a white, Irish perspective, and hers from a Black, Southern woman’s viewpoint. Both are different. And, it doesn’t matter how wacky the other one may think the response to be. It’s a feeling that should be recognized and appreciated.

In the first webinar in the “Open Wide” series, we suggested eight questions to serve as an examination of conscience about our reactions/views of racism. One question was, “Is there a root of racism within me that blurs my vision of who my neighbor is?” Or, as Archbishop Cheri said, “The only program that fundamentally impacts racism is the program I need to have with myself.”

I’ve never thought that a water faucet not working was because of my skin tone. I’ve never worried about a security person following me around a store because of suspicion. I’ve never thought twice about my daughters being shot during a traffic stop. But some people have. And, if I am going to try to open my Vincentian heart, I have to be approachable and non-judgmental-just like to do on our Home Visits.

One of the activities planned for the Vincentian Family Gathering was a visit to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Those of you who attended the National Assembly in Atlanta in 2014 will remember that the Center is next to The World of Coke attraction. When asked about the field trip, one person noted that their was a line outside The World of Coke. There was no line outside of the Center.

Confronting racism, both personal and societal, is hard, uncomfortable work. But, if Vincentians don’t do it, who will?

Jack Murphy
National Chair, Systemic Change and Advocacy




07-08-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-08-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 200 200 SVDP USA

Our Conference tried an experiment two weeks ago.

There are several extended stay hotels in our service area. None would get many positive reviews on travel web sites. Last year, about 11% of our funds went to these emergency housing options. Our goal was to find a way to get more folks out of that situation into one that offered more financial stability.

We found a staffing company offering about $12-15 an hour for warehouse work. The advantage to partnering with this particular company was that they could provide transportation if we could find enough employees living in proximity to each other. Check.

So, we slid flyers under doors, brought snacks, and waited in the lobby for the entire hotel to come and apply for jobs. One person came. And, unfortunately, that person was there for the snacks.

Although this first attempt was a failure, we all agreed to try again. We are going to have to work harder at getting these folks to see themselves in roles that may never have seen themselves in. Or at least they haven’t seen themselves in lately. We must work to give them more hope. And, hope is not easy to develop during a brief transaction.

Years ago, I attended a workshop offered by a faculty member from The University of Oklahoma Hope Research Center.  They use this for a working definition:

Hope is the belief that the future will be better and you have the power to make it so. Hope is based on three main ideas: desirable goals, pathways to goal attainment, and agency (willpower) to pursue those pathways.  (Emphasis added.)

Almost every person I visit in my SVdP service has an incredible optimism about the future. “I’m hoping to get more hours next month…”  “My sister should be able to lend me money…”

I’m sure you have heard this as well. But, all too often, these resources don’t come through and they are back asking us for help.

It’s those last two characteristics of hope that are lacking in many of our neighbors in need. They need more reliable pathways to stability and agency to pursue those pathways.

In a recent FAMVIN column, Fr. John Freund related a story told by Shelia Gilbert, our past SVdP President. When you first put a grasshopper in a jar, they frantically jump to get out. As they continue to hit their heads against the top, they slow down. Until they finally give up.

People who have been in need for a short time might still be wildly jumping and hoping that things will change. The longer they keep hitting their heads against job loss, housing expenses, and the other “jar lids” that keep them down, the less hope they might have. Until, eventually, they have give up and accept their situation.

Dr. Donna Beegle, a national poverty expert, who wrote the introduction to poverty material we use in The Society (If Not Me, Then Who?)went on Home Visits when she was developing the material. She told me, after that experience, that she would wait until the Vincentians would finish all the qualifying questions about budget, jobs, etc.. She would then ask the neighbor, “What are your hopes and dreams?” Just that simple. And then the interview would take off.

Our work, in this hotel project, will be to help more people see themselves as capable, to restore their vision of the future and accompany them on their “pathway to goal attainment.” The first mistake we made, as do many that attempt systemic change projects, is that we didn’t spend time asking the people what they needed. Did they need jobs? What are their hopes and dreams?

We aren’t trying to get them jobs. We are trying to restore their hope.

Jack Murphy
National Chair, Systemic Change and Advocacy



05-20-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-20-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has always had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit. We begin many of our meetings with this familiar prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, live within our lives, and strengthen us by your love. Send forth your Spirit, and new life will be created. And the whole face of the earth shall be renewed.”

Emmanuel Bailly led our founders in a similar prayer at their first meeting in his newspaper office in 1833. The main difference was that they prayed it in Latin.

Since our founding, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has relied upon the Holy Spirit to guide our journey. For the past 188 years we have been asking the Holy Spirit to live within us and strengthen us. We need this loving grace every time we go on our home visits and whenever we work to lift someone out of poverty. Those of us in Servant Leadership positions must ask for such grace regularly. We pray for the new life the Spirit creates, and we await the renewal of the world that this new life brings.

Change is never easy. So why do we pray for it almost every time we meet? Do we really want the whole face of the earth to be renewed? Most of us are pretty comfortable with how things are now. Sure, we are committed to creating a more just society, ending racism and eliminating poverty, but couldn’t we do that without the disrupting the whole face of the earth?

This past year has illustrated that many of the problems with which we have struggled during the pandemic are systemic. Disparities in healthcare, lack of affordable childcare, challenges of workplace safety, difficulty in accessing education – to name just some systemically rooted problems – have all caused extra hardship in the past year. Added to these difficulties, we have had to face the issue of how racism multiplies suffering in many communities.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been talking about the need for systemic change for several years. That desire to renew this world is what inspired our founder Blessed Frederic Ozanam to envision the establishment of a network of charity and social justice encircling the world. We are heirs to that vision.

I appreciate all the resources that have been provided virtually during the past year by our Voice of the Poor Committee and by our Multicultural and Diversity Committee. Each group has helped us focus on these systemic issues. As we come out of this period of isolation, we need to commit to actions that will transform systems that enshrine injustice or promote disparity.

I don’t think it is possible to significantly reform these systems without the Holy Spirit renewing the whole face of the earth. I also believe that change starts with us as individuals. I will need to discover the changes I need to make to participate in a community that is loving and just. As our Rule states, we are journeying together toward holiness. So, this Pentecost, let’s keep praying, “Holy Spirit, live within our lives, and strengthen us by your love.”

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

SVdP National Council Welcomes Associate Director of Poverty Programs / Director of Immersion Program

SVdP National Council Welcomes Associate Director of Poverty Programs / Director of Immersion Program 300 307 SVDP USA

The National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul is excited to welcome Heather Fullerton as the new Associate Director of Poverty Programs / Director of Immersion Program.

Heather will work collaboratively with Councils and Conferences to enhance and expand the Society’s Systemic Change programming, with a particular focus on Immersion, the Society’s national reentry program, and Back2Work, the national workforce development program.

Heather earned her bachelor’s degree in Science Education from the University of Missouri – Columbia and her master’s degree in School Administration from Lindenwood University.

For the past 15 years, Heather has used her skills as an educator and nonprofit manager to create equitable systems in which all people flourish by training and coaching others to build capacity.

As a teacher, Heather earned National Board Certification for excellence in innovative teaching.

Heather lives in St. Louis with her husband Joshua and their children Camille and Christian. They have a Dalmatian mix named Uno. In her free time, Heather enjoys sewing, gardening, and playing video games with her family.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside the National Council Staff,” said Heather. “I can’t wait to collaborate with this family of passionate, talented, and faithful individuals. Thank you for welcoming me with such open arms!”

Welcome Heather!

If you’d like to contact Heather, she can be reached at (314) 576-3993 ext. 217 or by email at

2021 Midyear Meeting

Midyear Meeting Wrapup

Midyear Meeting Wrapup 1916 1030 SVDP USA

Thank you to everyone who attended this year’s 2021 Virtual Midyear Business Meeting. We hope you found it both educational and spiritually uplifting. We’ll be sending out a survey soon for your input, suggestions, and feedback for the Meeting.

Those attendees who chose VIP Registration will receive a copy of the Society’s 175th Anniversary Book and a Commemorative Coin, shipping from our store in the next week. If you didn’t choose VIP registration, you may still order either the book, the coin, or a set of both. The book expands upon Ray Sickinger’s excellent presentation on the history of the Society in the United States, and is a must-read.

Presentation Links

If you were unable to attend a session, or would like to watch it again, here are links to the program recordings:

General Sessions
Thrift Stores 

Exhibitor Showcase

If you were not able to attend the Exhibitor Showcase, links and contact information for each vendor presentation can be found below. We hope you enjoy visiting with our vendors and that you’ll follow-up with them and help grow the Society’s partnership with our National Partners and Exhibitors.

Click the links below to view each presentation, or to email the vendor directly, click on their name:

2021 National Assembly

Mark your calendars for our 2021 National Assembly at the Marriott Marquis in Houston, Texas, August 25 – 29, 2021. We hope to see you there! For those who are not yet comfortable travelling, there will be  a hybrid component to the National Assembly so that those at home can still be part of the gathering.


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